Gender equality and advice for women striving for the top were key issues discussed at the Illawarra Business Chamber event on Tuesday.
Leading business figure Elizabeth Proust has held leadership roles in the private and public sectors for over 30 years and was the guest speaker at the Women in Executive Leadership Forum at City Beach Function Centre.
The former St Mary’s Star of the Sea student has sat in an array of boardrooms and acknowledged it had been quite a journey, recalling a National Australia Bank Christmas party in the early ‘90s where she realised the only other women in the room were the waitresses.
However, Ms Proust believed women were becoming more prominent in executive positions.
She quoted nearly 30 per cent of board members of the ASX top 200 companies were now women, but said females needed to have confidence in themselves and not be afraid to aim high.
“You have to back yourself,” she said. “You’re not going to lie in an interview, you’re going to say ‘I haven’t got that experience but these are the things that I have done and this is why I [am suited for this role]’.”
Three important things for career success were networking, seeking mentors and taking risks, Ms Proust told the 100 women in the audience.
“With the exception of the political world … this is a good time to be a female leader,” she said.
“We’ve gone beyond … the arguments of fairness and equity, and now where people have accepted it’s done business.”
At the conclusion of the forum, IBC president Regional Advisory Council Janine Cullen acknowledged 13 out of 18 advisory board members for the business chamber were men, though called for change.
“No women applied – we have an AGM at the end of the year and I ask the women in this room today to think about coming on the council, coming on the board of IBC – it doesn’t pay but it is a really important role,” Ms Cullen said.